A runner from Tunbridge Wells has been inspired to tackle her first London Marathon after spending the last year working with young refugees and asylum-seeking children at the British Red Cross.

Kalyani McCarthy has been training hard and fundraising in Kent over the last six months in preparation for the 26.2 mile challenge. Through it, she's raising money for a project aimed at improving the lives of vulnerable young refugees.

She said, "I've always known that if I ever did run the London Marathon I would want to fundraise for a refugee charity. I joined the Red Cross last May and have been managing the Surviving to Thriving project and so I've been able to see first-hand what a worthwhile cause it is."

Surviving to Thriving provides support for 11 to 25 year-olds who arrived unaccompanied after traumatic journeys to the UK. In partnership with the Refugee Council, UpRising and People's Postcode Lottery, the programme offers:

  • workshops on rights and entitlements,
  • group sessions to build confidence, skills and, social networks,
  • one-to-one and group therapeutic counselling, and
  • personal development and social action schemes.

The daughter of a local frame-maker, Kalyani has held various events such as bake sales and coffee mornings at her parents' house in Kent to hit the £2,600 target she's set herself. The money raised will go directly towards funding group activities and fun outings for the young people, all of whom were forced to flee their home countries due to conflict or persecution.

Kalyani explained, "Whether this is providing a bus pass for them to attend a group session, paying for a snack or introducing them to a completely new activity like dry slope skiing, all these gestures help these young people momentarily switch off from the challenges they are facing and have fun as teenagers."

Over 200 young refugees and people seeking asylum, representing more than 25 different countries, have so far received support across three locations in England.

Kalyani added, "These are children and very young adults, and the fact that they have gone through what they have at such a young age is just absolutely shocking. Surviving to Thriving is a way of making them feel welcome and valued with smiles, friendly support, and opportunities to flourish."

The beneficiaries of the project have been a source of inspiration to Kalyani in more ways than one, and have kept her running through rain, sleet, and snow.

"When I'm training I often think about one young person we work with, an amazingly talented runner. He loves running and it's so important for him to have something positive to take his mind off the uncertainty around his asylum claim. He did an amazing time in his first half-marathon, even though he was injured, but he can't afford to run in the marathon.

"Seeing someone with such natural talent be blocked simply because of their immigration status is a reminder of why the project is so crucial for ensuring young refugees and asylum-seekers have access to opportunities and support in the UK.

"I have such respect for these young people who are so resilient after enduring more hardship that most of us face in our lifetimes. I can't take away what they've been through, but by running those 26.2 miles I will know I'm helping them in some small way."

Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People's Postcode Lottery, is willing Kalyani to get to the finishing line. "Taking on the London Marathon is no mean feat and Kalyani’s efforts will be a real inspiration to the young people she helps to support. We are so pleased that funding from players is making a difference to the lives of young refugees and asylum-seekers through the Surviving to Thriving project."

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Runner Kalyani is helping young refugees by taking part in the London Marathon this year